The Coalition of Immokalee Workers Receives Clinton Gobal Citizen Award

NEW YORK-The 10th Clinton Global Initiative began its Annual Meeting on Sunday in New York City and started with the 8th annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards.   The Awards pay tribute to outstanding individuals who contribute to society through philanthropy, public service, and also the private sector.   Factors of global citizenship, vision, leadership, and individual impact in addressing global challenges all weigh into the selection process.


Actor Leonardo DiCaprio was honored for his work on environmental causes and preservation of oceans, Hayat Sindi for her work supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in Middle Eastern youth, Dr. Irwin Mark Jacobs for bringing wireless technology to underserved communities, the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga for her work to build the country’s political and economic institutions moving in the direction of European Union membership.


One more award went to a group that The Nation Report has followed for many years, the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers (CIW) of Florida who were awarded a Global Citizen Award for their work on behalf of farmworkers.  At KGNU we have covered their efforts to win the cooperation of food corporations to sign on to the Fair Food Agreement laid out by the CIW.  The most recent corporations, Trader Joes, Chipotle Restaurants and Walmart have signed on to the Fair Food Agreement although the Wendy’s Corporation, Publix Foods of the Southeastern United States, Quiznos, and Kroger King Soopers still have refused to sign on to the Fair Food Agreement.



The Sheraton Hotel in downtown Manhattan was the location where heavy security was in place hours before the event.  The actor and activist Eva Longoria introduced the CIW after talking about her involvement in a documentary outlining the work of the farmworker organization,

“I chose to advocate for farmworkers because I eat food.  Every time I tell people I eat organic because it means that farmworkers weren’t sprayed with pesticides, people go, ‘That is such a good idea.’  I care about food.  I care about where it’s grown, how it’s grown, but most importantly in the people who pick it.  We are the most well-fed nation in the world and the people who pick our food often go to bed hungry.  When I received a phone call from director Sanjay Rawal about a documentary about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers which is an organization dedicated to ending the exploitation of farmworkers in the United States, I signed on.   I still feel like documentaries are the best way to humanize an issue.  This was a story that demanded telling.  This is the inspiring story of a community of workers who were once hidden in the shadows who are taking their own destiny in their own hands.”

The trailer of the movie Food Chain that depicts the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and included segments of speeches and comments of importance in the history of the movement,

“In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty”, spoken by President Obama during his State of the Union Address.

“Live hungry, while you are working?  That is not a dignified way of living”, were the words of Coalition of Immokalee Worker organizer Gerardo Reyes.

“The defendants have been accused of beating them, locking them inside trailers, chaining them to a pole.  These abuses are un-American, they are unacceptable, and they must stop”,

“The history of farm labor in the United States is a history of exploitation”,

“These people have suffered tremendously and growing much more slowly economically than any other segment of our society”,  spoken by the late Robert F. Kennedy whose widow Ethel and daughter Kerri have carried on the work of their husband and father by marching along with the CIW at many of their events.




The Nation Report has followed the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CIW as they walked 200 miles in 2013 from Ft. Myers, Florida to Lakeland where the Publix Grocery chain is headquartered.  Publix refused to meet with the group and only released a statement that they would not cooperate with the CIW.

Earlier this year the CIW marched to the Wendy’s headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio.  Wendy’s refused to meet with the group as well.

Most recently in July, The Nation Report reported from downtown Denver where the Student Farmworker Alliance and Denver Fair Food organized a tour de Fair Food and rallied outside of 2 Wendy’s restaurants downtown.  Wendy’s managers refused to meet with the representatives of those two organizations as well.

Lucas Benitez took part in both the Lakeland event and the Cleveland event and he represented the group upon receiving the award after the group marched in the great Climate March in New York City.

Lucas Benitez spoke to the audience:

“Buenas noches.  I try to do my best in English.  Twenty years ago when I was eighteen years old picking tomatoes in the field myself, I could not imagine that I’d be here today with all of you.  Thank you for your support. The eighteen year olds in the fields today are facing a far, far better experience.  So thank you to my coworkers in Immokalee, Florida.  And thank you to a lot of consumers, our tomatoes came from Florida.  Now this tomato is a fair tomato.  But we need to do more and more work to have the entire industry working with us and for this fair food agreements.  This award will only add to the growing awareness of the thousands of poor communitites from Immokalee to Bangladesh where multinational corporations grow and assemble the produce we all consume.  In these communities horrific tragedies and instances of dehumanizing abuse have darkened over and over again.  ….workers forced to labor against their will.  A culture of sexual harassment and violence without redress.  For these workers, the traditional models of corporate social responsibility have failed them often with tragic consequences.  So we ask a simple question, “what if we as workers ourselves design our own social responsibility program to protect our own human rights.”


Greg Asbed is a cofounder of the CIW and also was awarded a Clinton Global Citizen Award,

“The simple question that Lucas just asked enabled us to design in partnership with the 650 million dollar tomato industry and twelve of the biggest food corporations in the world, a new way forward that we call worker driven social responsibility.  This new model gave birth to the Fair Food Program that is designed and enforced by the very workers whose rights it is intended to protect in collaboration with the growers and retail corporations whose risks it has mitigated with such unprecedented success.  With this approach we’ve seen almost unimaginable change happening in only three growing seasons including a near total reduction in sexual harassment and violence against women in the fields, the injection of over 15 million dollars in new payroll to workers to address the grinding generational poverty that workers have faced forever in our fields and perhaps most dramatically, the elimination of forced labor in an industry once dubbed ground zero for modern slavery by federal prosecutors as secretary Clinton probably remembers stood with then secretary of State Clinton to receive the state departments Hero Award for our work in fighting and prosecuting slavery in Florida’s fields.  But today just four years later, we’ve traveled the road from prosecution to prevention and in the process created a world where there are no more victims.  And we’ve done that by using the strict market consequences that underlie the Fair Food Program.  Today our program is poised to expand in new states and new crops and we couldn’t be more excited about the future for low-wage workers not just in Florida but throughout the world.  The vast promise of this market based, worker driven social responsibility is only now beginning to unfold.  This award will surely provide an incomparable boost to our efforts to establish this important breakthrough as the gold standard for the protection and expansion of fundamental human rights.”

Refer back to The Nation Report as we update on the work of the CIW as they pressure Publix, Wendy’s, Quiznos, and Kroger King Soopers to sign onto the Fair Food Agreement.

Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report



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